It’s not a fire

We had a problem with our supplier – they were offering us a really long lead time for an item we needed quite soon if we were to meet our customers’ expectations.

The comment made by the supplier was a little direct –

‘Lack of planning on your part does not constitute a fire on my part’.

We won’t be using that supplier in the future. What they said to us isn’t something I would ever recommend you say to a customer either. But it is worth keeping their comment in mind when you are next chasing a result.

Are you under pressure because you didn’t plan properly?

If that’s not the case, where is the fire?

At what point did your project or program get away from the planned timeline? What caused that to happen?

When you know these answers, the most important questions to ask yourself next are, ‘What could we have done to avoid this?’ and ‘Should we build in an allowance for this to happen again and put remedial measures in place?’.  (The answer to this second question is ‘Probably yes’ – unless it really was a unique set of circumstances.)

Most projects fail for two main reasons –

The first reason for failure is because they are not properly planned;  they aren’t broken down into measurable and achievable steps that have performance indicators attached to them. If you don’t set a target, how will you know when you’ve  achieved it?

The second – and perhaps more worrying – cause of failure is when both the plan and a means of measuring it exist, but the outcome is ignored or skipped over. Sometimes this can happen when the failure of a project means the loss of face or status is too great to accept. The project team can’t bring themselves to admit failure – and that can mean they move the target!

The more complex the project, and the more moving parts it comprises, the more important it becomes to break it down into manageable pieces, so you can measure performance at the lowest level.

Avoid the fake news trap

It’s not just in American politics that we suffer from fake news. It happens all the time in the business world over here as well.

Sometimes, it’s internal. Credit is taken or blame shifted from one individual to another through careful commentary and positioning.

Often, it’s external. For instance, when dealing with customers or suppliers where promises or half-promises are made in the full knowledge that they won’t be kept.

If you are getting ‘fake news’ internally, you have a cultural problem. Your team are not being honest and open, which shows there is a lack of trust. That leads to team members retaining rather than sharing their knowledge and working as individuals, rather than as part of the greater whole.

It can take some time to change the culture.  The trap here for the manager is that they act on the fake news – so reinforcing the behaviour of the guilty party. I claim credit for a job that really belongs to someone else, get rewarded, so I’ll do it again!

You can avoid this by double-checking your facts. Good journalists confirm their stories from multiple sources. If you reward the right people, the fake news will fade away – it becomes pointless because you have seen through it.

Now let’s look at the effects of fake news externally.  If you are making promises to customers that you know you can’t keep, you are just setting yourself up for failure. If I promise to deliver by next Tuesday, delivering on Tuesday or before makes me look good. Delivering on Wednesday makes me look bad – so why would I promise delivery on Tuesday?  I’m afraid of disappointing the customer, but if I don’t tell the truth I am just deferring the disappointment.

Your suppliers may be following the same route. You push for a faster delivery, they say ‘yes, we can do it’ (because that’s easier than saying no), and then they disappoint you with a later than expected delivery.

Fake news may be affecting either or both your customers and suppliers, but you can always check and challenge what’s been promised. You’ll find you won’t have to do that too often before the fake news goes away!